Developing nations urged to cut use of hazardous pesticides

Now-empty classroom where meal contaminated with pesticide served to children – Click to enlarge

Developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets following the death of 23 children from contaminated food in India, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.

The children in the Indian state of Bihar died earlier this month after eating a school meal of rice and potato curry contaminated with monocrotophos, a pesticide considered highly hazardous by the FAO and the World Health Organization…

Monocrotophos is banned in many countries but a panel of government experts in India was persuaded by manufacturers that the product was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that decimate crop output.

Although India’s government argues the benefits of strong pesticides outweigh the hazards if properly managed, the food poisoning tragedy underlined criticism such controls are virtually ignored on the ground.

The FAO said many countries lacked the resources to properly manage the storage, distribution, handling and disposal of pesticides and to reduce their risks…

Monocrotophos is currently prohibited in Australia, China, the European Union and the United States, and in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America…

India doesn’t have the market cornered in greed and corruption though some of their neighbors seem to be working more seriously at turning their own cultural history around. The point remains that the suggestions from United Nations FAO should be taken as a mandate.

If Indian politicians want to look like heroes they can name the law after the children their profiteering buddies killed.

Child labor, cigarettes, Bangladesh

Child labor, cigarettes, Bangladesh
Click to enlargeREUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Children fill up empty cigarettes manually with locally grown tobacco in a small bidi (cigarette) factory at Haragach in Rangpur district, Bangladesh…

According to a 2012 study by US-based NGO, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, over 45,000 people in Bangladesh are employed in manufacturing inexpensive cigarettes known as bidis and this number includes many women and children working in household based establishments where they make low wages and live in poverty.

A 2011 research paper about bidi workers in Bangladesh, published in the journal Tobacco Control, says that working conditions can involve poor ventilation and exposure to tobacco dust, which can cause a range of health problems including respiratory and skin diseases.

What redeeming value is there for jobs like these? Yes, I know all the explanations offered by sweatshop owners. But, study after study for over a century draws conclusions that reality dooms these children to despair.

Misreading Chinese rebalancing, of course

Used Car Lot – Shenyang

The punditocracy has once again succumbed to the “China Crash” syndrome – a malady that seems to afflict economic and political commentators every few years. Never mind the recurring false alarms over the past couple of decades. This time is different, argues the chorus of China skeptics.

Yes, China’s economy has slowed. While the crisis-battered West could only dream of matching the 7.5% annual GDP growth rate that China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported for the second quarter of 2013, it certainly does represent an appreciable slowdown from the 10% growth trend recorded from 1980 to 2010.

But it is not just the slowdown that has the skeptics worked up. There are also concerns over excessive debt and related fears of a fragile banking system; worries about the ever-present property bubble collapsing; and, most important, the presumed lack of meaningful progress on economic rebalancing – the long-awaited shift from a lopsided export-and-investment-led growth model to one driven by internal private consumption…

For an unbalanced economy that has under-consumed and over-invested for the better part of three decades, this is unnerving. After all, China’s leadership has been talking about rebalancing for years – especially since the enactment of the pro-consumption 12th Five-Year Plan in March 2011. It was one thing when rebalancing failed to occur as the economy was growing rapidly; for the skeptics, it is another matter altogether when rebalancing is stymied in a “slow-growth” climate.

This is superficial thinking, at best. The rebalancing of any economy – a major structural transformation in the sources of output growth – can hardly be expected to occur overnight. It takes strategy, time, and determination to pull it off. China has an ample supply of all three…

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